Pedram, who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his last name, said on Monday during a Skype interview from the Turkish city of Yalova that he chose to resettle in the U.S. because his sister, who has a green card, lives in Houston with her family. He also told the Blade he would be able to work as an industrial designer in this country.
“I have more opportunities for this job in the USA,” said Pedram.
“I think it’s better and safer for me in the USA,” he added.
Pedram had been waiting for his final interview with the International Catholic Migration Commission, an organization with which the U.N. Refugee Agency works. Pedram told the Blade that he was expecting to travel to the U.S. in April or May.
The executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 27 suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and indefinitely bans Syrian refugees from entering the country. It also suspends the issuance of visas to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya for three months.
“We are running from other bad regimes like the Islamic Republic (of Iran) regime,” said Pedram. “But now Trump bans us from going (to the U.S.) That’s very sad.”
Pedram also noted refugees who want to resettle in the U.S. already undergo a lengthy screening and vetting process that can take years to complete.
Trump’s executive order outlines the so-called “extreme vetting” of potential immigrants once his administration reinstates the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. It states, among other things, the U.S. “should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including ‘honor’ killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.”
“They’re always checking people going to America,” he said. “We’re not refugees going to Europe.”
“Europe opened their doors and everybody came into the continent — terrorists, refugees, anyone who could get inside the border,” added Pedram. “The USA is not like that.”
Life in Tehran was ‘terrible’
Pedram is originally from Shiraz, a city in southern Iran. He moved to Tehran in June 2010 to study industrial design at the University of Art in the Iranian capital.
Pedram told the Blade he decided to move to Tehran because his father harassed him for his “gay behaviors” and atheism. He said he did not give him money because he wanted to punish him.
“They told me, ‘You don’t have a good act and you act like a girl. Your friends are not good. They are faggots,'” said Pedram, referring to his father and other family members.
Iran is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death.
Pedram told the Blade that he and his now ex-boyfriend lived together in Tehran.
They had “very thick” curtains on the windows of their apartment. Pedram also told the Blade that he and his boyfriend at the time left separately so “our neighbors didn’t see us together.”
“We were living together, but for us the whole time was very terrible,” he said. “We were always afraid our neighbors would call the police and say two guys were living together and maybe they have sex with each other or maybe they tell them we are homosexual.”
Pedram said his classmates harassed him. He told the Blade they also beat him on the street once he left the university.
“They insulted me with bad words,” said Pedram. “I could never complain.”
Pedram also told the Blade that he was fired from the factory at which he worked as an industrial designer because managers “understood that I’m gay.” He said he was unable to find another job because his ID card contained a reference to his psychological exemption to military service that applies to gay men.
Refugees unable to board flights to U.S. from Istanbul
Pedram left Tehran and fled to Turkey two years ago.
He told the Blade there are more than 100 LGBT Iranian refugees in Yalova, which is roughly two hours south of Istanbul on the Sea of Marmara. Pedram said there are also more than 500 Christian Iranians in the city who are also seeking refuge.
Pedram said Turkish authorities do not allow them to leave the city without permission. He also told the Blade that he and other LGBT refugees face the same discrimination and violence they experienced in Iran.
“Many of our friends are beaten by people,” said Pedram. “There are many homophobic and even xenophobic people that don’t treat us good.”
He told the Blade his neighbors “continuously ask” him questions about why he is in their city, why he is single, what his religion is and whether he has a job. Pedram said they also harass his landlord.
“Many of my friends and me have a lot of stress,” he told the Blade. “In Turkey we have the same kind of conditions like in Iran and here it’s very unsafe for us.”
Pedram said he and other refugees are required to meet with local immigration authorities every two weeks.
He told the Blade the last meeting was on Jan. 25, the same day Trump signed two executive orders that spur the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and threaten to cut federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.” Reports also emerged about the administration’s plan to suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and stop issuing visas to Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Somali, Sudanese and Libyan citizens.
“Everyone was talking about this,” said Pedram. “Many people were very stressed and were very agitated and no one could do anything.”
Pedram told the Blade he knows refugees who were scheduled to travel to the U.S. over the weekend.
He said they were unable to board their flights at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Pedram told the Blade many of them sold their homes and left their jobs in Iran in order to flee to Turkey.
“They don’t have anything in Turkey right now: No home, no job, nothing,” he said. “They suddenly got surprised. This is a great problem.”
Pedram told the Blade he was studying English and improving his job skills before his expected resettlement in the U.S.
These plans are now on hold.
“I hope everything is better,” said Pedram.